Psalm 85 is, like many of the psalms of the sons of Korah, a relatively obscure one. Nonetheless, the meaning and imagery of this psalm is very rich and distinctive, putting it as among the most beautiful and moving descriptions of the full restoration of Israel during the Millennium. For a psalm that speaks so directly to our time and to our own concerns, it is remarkable that this song is so little examined or reflected on. Therefore, let us do so ourselves today.
Psalm 85 consists of two parts, a plea for restoration and praise to God for his mercy and grace. It is therefore a psalm that begins in anticipation and concern and then moves to praise and gratitude, making it a thanksgiving psalm as well as a community prayer. Let us examine the meaning of the psalm and its contexts, as well as examine its obscurity and some of the potential reasons it is so little known and discussed, even by those passionately interested in the subject of the establishment of the physical and literal rule of our King, Jesus Christ, on this earth, for a thousand years.
Will You Be Angry With Us Forever?
Psalm 85:1-7 reads as follows: “Lord, You have been favorable to Your land; You have brought back the captivity of Jacob. You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. Selah. You have taken away all Your wrath; You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger. Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your anger toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will you prolong Your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, Lord, and grant us Your salvation.”
There is a sense in which these verses are timeless, as if they could be said by the children of Israel (physical and spiritual) during many similar situations. As God is a God who judges according to His law, when His people rebel and disobey Him, he punishes them with fierce judgments (see Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28). When this occurs, the people of God cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness, seeking restoration to the way things were and the end of the judgment. God is merciful to forgive, and throughout the course of human history Israel has been just as quick to lapse into folly as soon as those who remember the judgment and suffering have died and their memory is forgotten. The book of Judges provides a sad and repetitive account of this cycle of disobedience-judgment-repentance-deliverance-rise of a new generation-disobedience.
Nonetheless, there is an aspect of this prayer that requires the presence of Jesus Christ, making this an implicit messianic psalm (making its obscurity all the more difficult to understand). The psalmist among the Sons of Korah was inspired to write this psalm in recognition of the fact that God had covered the sins of Israel. The psalmist knew that sin required payment. Ultimately, it took the price of the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world for sin to be covered up, a sacrifice paid for by the king who will restore the captivity of Jacob and bring the entire world under the righteous rule of the godly, an extremely rare (and perhaps unprecedented) occurrence in the melancholy history of human government.
Righteousness and Peace Have Kissed
Psalm 85:8-13 reads as follows: “I will hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth shall spring up out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Yes, the Lord will give what is good; and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway.”
This passage, in light of the repetitious cycle of folly Israel fell into after being delivered by God during the time of the Judges (see Judges 2:11-23), can only refer to a time when the cycle of disobedience and rebellion to the laws and rule of God will be over for Israel, a time that points to the Millennial restoration. God promises restoration, but also warns Israel not to return to folly like a dog returns to his vomit and like a sow returns to her mire (see Proverbs 26:11, 2 Peter 2:22). The fact that after the return of Christ the Shekaniah glory will dwell again with men through the visible reign of Jesus Christ on earth means that salvation will be very near to those who respect and honor God.
The psalm closes with a set of very descriptive metaphors about what the millennial restoration means about some of the more intractable problems of human existence in this current fallen world. Mercy and truth have met together as friends instead of enemies. Too often in this world truth is considered as merciless, because it exposes our sinful and corrupt nature, while mercy is often viewed as weakness or is a cover for weakness and the refusal to enforce standards of godly righteousness in a rebellious world. There will be no such craven weakness from Jesus Christ–for there will be mercy, but mercy with truth and strength. Likewise, when righteousness and peace kiss, it means that there will no longer be a tension between peace and harmony and the desire for obedience to God’s law. The power of God is so great that no rebellion or conflict against the rule of Jesus Christ will threaten the peace of God. With the power of God (and His firstfruits) to crush any chance of rebellion, there will be peace on earth and the establishment of His righteous law over all the world, something we all ought to look forward to.
Intriguingly enough, the establishment of a righteous legal system and a godly system of government over the entire earth, from which successful rebellion will be impossible, is connected with two wonderful blessings: bountiful harvests from the land as well as the righteous example of Jesus’ obedience being the pathway for a repentant humanity. The blessings of a successful example of obedience (allowing mankind the example to learn from someone who has lived an obedient life, and not merely read of the godly way of life and leadership from the Bible and other books without seeing it practiced) as well as bountiful harvests (allowing mankind to escape the horror of droughts and famines) are the result of righteous obedience to God and the resulting lovingkindness of God.
On The Purpose of Psalm 85
The purpose of Psalm 85 appears to be multifaceted. For one, the psalm provides a reminder of God’s mercy and forgiveness of those who have repented of their rebellion against God’s law and rule (to reject the law of God is to reject the authority of God to rule in one’s life, and is therefore an act of rebellion against God). Additionally, the psalm, as a community prayer, allows believers to individualize their own appeal to God for restoration and forgiveness when they are in trials as a result of their sin (a portion of the trials that believers suffer periodically). Also, as a psalm that points to the messianic rule of Jesus Christ and its combination of peace and righteousness, mercy and truth, the resolution of mankind’s insoluble dilemmas is revealed in the establishment of divine rule over the earth. Only God can solve the deep and intractable problems of this world, and therefore to obey God and seek salvation is also to seek the establishment of God’s kingdom over all mankind. This psalm is therefore a clear millennial appeal, and a psalm of great prophetic importance.
On The Obscurity of Psalm 85
Nonetheless, it must be recognized that Psalm 85 is deeply obscure. For whatever reason, only a few songs (“Lord, Let Us See Your Kindness” and “Lord, Show Us Your Mercy And Love,” chief among them ) have referenced this particular psalm, despite its imagery of righteousness and peace kissing. Part of the obscurity of the psalm probably results from its clear cause and effect relationship shown between the folly of rebellion to God’s law and the judgment and wrath of God. Even the moving imagery of restoration and reconciliation once mankind repents of error and submits to the authority of God’s law and the reign of the returning King Jesus Christ does not obscure the fact that the Sons of Korah connect God’s judgment and wrath to the rebellious folly of mankind. That is a connection few people in these corrupt times wish to accept or admit, and therefore this psalm languishes in unmerited obscurity.
In conclusion, let us praise the Sons of Korah for writing this eloquent and moving appeal for God’s people to repent of their rebellion and this expressive and descriptive prayer of gratitude to God for His promised future restoration of Israel from captivity and the establishment of His kingdom over the entire earth. Let us see beyond our hardened hearts and ask God to restore us again to His good graces and spare us from His wrath, which we have richly deserved by virtue of our flagrant rebellion against His laws and His ways. Let us therefore resolve, as did the Sons of Korah, to avoid repeating our folly and to find salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ, walking in His footsteps along the pathway to the Kingdom of God.